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A Case for Print in the Digital Age

“We were probably mistaken to think of words on screens as substitutes for words on paper. They seem to be different things, suited to different kinds of reading and providing different sorts of aesthetic and intellectual experiences” 1

We are living in the Digital Age. The average American adult spends about half of his or her waking hours looking at screens (televisions, computers, mobile phones)2 and about 87% of Americans have access to the Internet.3

With that kind of proliferation then, it seems obvious that online marketing should be the backbone of any advertising campaign and that is true. A digital campaign can target a lot of users quickly. It can put your product directly in front of the people who want to buy it through ad targeting. However, there is a case to be made for the importance of print advertising as well.

A few years ago, experts were starting to declare that print was a dying medium across the board. They reasoned that as usage of digital devices continued to rise, the use of traditional media would conversely decline until it was completely phased out all together. Ever since the invention of the phonograph in the late 1800’s and with each new innovation for information dissemination since, “Print is dead!” has been shouted from the rooftops.1

But print isn’t dead. Print, like most things in life, is simply evolving. Where it once was the ubiquitous King of Information Distribution, it now must share or even concede the throne to digital outlets.

So, what does print advertising have to offer in the Digital Age?

  1. Pervasiveness – If 87% of the population is plugged in, that means that 13% aren’t. If adults spend half of their waking hours looking at a screen that means half of their hours are spent looking elsewhere. A print campaign capitalizes on those people and those moments not spent plugged in.
  2. Tangibility – A digital ad can only be looked at, if it is paid any notice at all. A physical piece is a more complete sensory experience. It is a tactile thing. It engages spatial memory through touch, as well as visual memory, which helps foster better retention of the message.1
  3. Comprehension – Focus is better when interacting with something on paper vs. something on screen. In addition to engaging spatial memory through touch, people are much less likely to multitask while interacting with something written on paper. They are likely to spend more time engaging with a printed piece and therefore more likely to remember the message. This is true of pre- and post-Digital Age generations alike.4
  4. Engagement – In the fast-paced digital world, print has the potential to grasp attention and hold it for longer periods of time. A well-designed, full page, full color magazine ad or a nicely folded direct mailer printed on a luxurious stock are both bound to grab attention.
  5. Trustworthiness – “There is something about print that gives a sense of legitimacy.”5 There is a sense of investment, commitment and confidence in a printed piece. There is also no fear of repercussions through interacting with it i.e., you can’t download a computer virus through a magazine ad. (You can’t block them with an ad blocker either.)

Rather than enemies, where one medium is trying to decimate the other, print and digital should be seen as partners. Digital is quick and prolific. Print is steadfast and tactile. Each has their advantages and they should be used to support one another to help reach as many people as possible.


  1. http://theweek.com/articles/458967/no-print-isnt-dead
  2. http://alifeofproductivity.com/chances-spend-way-much-time-staring-screens-every-day
  3. http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users-by-country/
  4. http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1186&context=slissrj
  5. http://www.forbes.com/sites/thesba/2012/06/28/print-is-dead-not-so-fast/